Five tips for using compressed air more sustainably

Libby Peacock is Category Manager, Fluid Energy, at Brammer Buck & Hickman

Producing compressed air is energy-intensive and expensive. In addition, typically 30% of compressed air is wasted or misused. But is it possible to reduce energy consumption without compromising a machine’s performance and without significant expense? The answer is a resounding yes.

At Brammer Buck & Hickman, we run regular compressed air workshops under the name REHAB, which stands for:

  • Reduce energy
  • Education
  • Health and security
  • Autonomous maintenance
  • best training

These workshops are designed to empower customers to make changes on their own and show that minor tweaks can generate significant results.

Here are our top five tips for reducing compressed air energy consumption:

1. Choose the right components

Switching to high-flow fittings could increase air tool productivity by around 50% and reduce energy consumption by up to 30%. In more than half of the applications, the pneumatic drive is too large for the intended use. It is often sufficient to reduce cylinder size or use single-acting cylinders for a pneumatic system and this can help reduce air consumption.

Also look at the connectors you are using. Every tube, fitting and filter causes a pressure drop. Each pressure drop of 1 bar means a 7% increase in the cost of producing compressed air. A 90⁰ elbow can be the equivalent of a 1.6 meter length of pipe. Check if you can replace the elbows with straight connectors and the tees with Y-pieces.

2. Sizes of pipes and tubes

Choosing a pipe size with a smaller diameter for valves and cylinders can reduce air consumption, while choosing a larger diameter pipe for air tools can save money. Using low-drag tubing can increase airflow and reduce pressure drop to optimize compressed air systems. This can result in annual savings of around £15,000.

3. Reduce pressure

Incorporating point-of-use pressure regulators can pay off. A pressure reduction of just 1 bar reduces energy consumption by up to 10%.

Installing a regulator allows the pressure to be reduced without affecting the operation of the machine. In addition to wasting compressed air, operating at too high a pressure can increase component wear, leading to overheating, and associated maintenance and replacement costs.

4. Power off and save

Pneumatic equipment left idling can consume 20-70% of its power at full load.

Apply the principles of responsible use of pneumatic components, such as: installing manual shutoff valves and shutting off when the machine is not in use; the implementation of timed solenoid valves, which allow the operation of the pneumatic components only if subsequent equipment is used; or installing sensor-operated interlocks that detect the need for compressed air equipment to operate can isolate or apply air as needed.

5. Stop leaks

In a pneumatic system, leakage can be 5-10% of the air delivered, although some systems experience a loss of 40-50%.

One of the biggest sources of air leaks are push-on fittings, although it’s probably not the fitting that is to blame, but the tubing. Using scissors, box cutters, and the like to cut pneumatic tubing can compromise the seal and cause the fitting to leak, while using a tubing cutter ensures a good seal.

Consider installing a flow meter, which is the most effective way to reduce leaks and energy consumption, by monitoring leaks as part of a facility-wide maintenance program. You may also consider investing in a compressed air leak audit to fully identify leaks so that corrective action can be taken.

These small adjustments are easy to make without the need for expensive equipment or the intervention of third parties. In fact, they can be done by some of the most junior employees, including apprentices, ensuring that everyone can participate in the transition to more sustainable processes.

Alice F. Ponder